One of the few areas where the coalition’s health reforms are generally being recognised to have potential to ‘do good’ is in public health.
The changes are expected to address long term conditions and young and older people’s services, while the added responsibility GPs and organisations will take on is assumed to put local services back in the hands of the community.
It couldn’t have come sooner. HSJ reported last month that seven per cent of hospital admissions were directly caused by alcohol related illnesses, and just three weeks later, major health bodies withdrew from the government’s “responsibility deal” on alcohol claiming they lacked scope and were not measurable.
Seven major grocers promptly pledged allegiance to the deal, which aims to inform customers on the dangers of unhealthy food and drink consumption without the need to bring in new regulation.
A government that has thrown its full support behind the corporate sector in this week’s Budget might be less concerned about the one-sided backing the deal has received so far.
But they will still need to assuage health bodies in the longer term if they want to devolve public health responsibility away from the centre.
Public awareness will be vital. And for behaviours to be changed, campaigns will need to do much more, much quicker, in successfully promoting better health in society - or calls for legislation will grow louder.
Social marketing has had a very limited impact on public health to date, and typical PH issues are weighing heavily on the resources of the NHS, resources which will now be in the hands of local service providers expected to start relieving some of that burden.
Yet if the public remains so blissfully unaware of the dangers coursing through their arteries, it is clear that now is the time for innovation in public health communications too.
Perhaps there will be some interesting answers provided at next month’s World Social Marketing Conference, where the focus will be on public health campaigns.